Wake up for a shake up

Wake up for a shake up

Anyone who thinks that it is going to be business as usual in the extra-heavy truck market better wake up, because there seems to be a shake up coming our way, writes UDO RYPSTRA.

Yes, if sales are anything to go by, South African fleet operators involved in the heavy construction and long-distance market segments still prefer European extra-heavies over their American counterparts, with Japanese rigids and truck tractors over 16 000 kg GVM occupying the third place.

But there are new boys on the block and they are not cowboys. While the Freightliner has been the best selling American long-distance truck in South Africa for quite some time – and is believed to have run out of stock temporarily – new products from the recent NC2 Global partnership between Navistar Inc and Caterpillar could upset that apple cart with local versions of the new Cat CT 610 and 630 models coming our way.

NC2 Global has taken over the assets of Navistar in multi-million deals in Australia, South Africa (the Apex plant) and Brazil. Australian versions of the “first-ever Cat on-road trucks” were launched late last month. As initial media statements said, they were “expressly designed and optimised” for the Australian market and assembled at NC2’s manufacturing facility in Tullamarine, which was formerly used for production of Cat earth-moving equipment.

While cab-over models will also be available, the Australian models are conventional prime movers with 18-speed manual gearboxes, and will be available in day-cab and extended-cab options. To give an idea of what’s in the pipeline:

•  The CT 610 has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 24,5 tons and a gross combination mass (GCM) of up to 57 tons. It will be powered by the Cat C13 engine, which is rated at 350 kW (470 hp) at 2 100 r/min and 2 250 Nm at 1 200 r/min.

•  The CT 630 also has a GVM of 24,5 tons, and provides a GCM of 72 tons, with an optional 90 tons rating. It will be powered by the Cat C15 engine, which is rated at 410 kW (550 hp) at 1 800 r/min and 2 500 Nm at 1 200 r/min.

Wake up for a shake upFor back-up, the Australian NC2 Global team has moved quickly to prepare a network of Cat dealers who will sell and service the vehicles. The Cat dealers, operating initially in 54 locations, were selected based on market coverage, service orientation, experience with servicing Cat engines, and commitment to the on-highway truck market.

Are we going to see something similar happening in South Africa?  Until it gets its ducks in a row, NC2 Global South Africa’s initial product line-up will continue to be led by the legendary Cummins-powered International 9800 series of cab-over long haul tractors and the International WorkStar conventional truck, which recently replaced the International 7600.

South Africa doesn’t need Euro 5 engines (yet), but the need to “expressly design and optimise” trucks for a specific market has also been recognised by MAN Truck & Bus with the recent introduction of its TGS WW series. It is aimed at developing countries and the
TGS WW range designed “expressly” for the SA market is different from TGS specifications for countries such as Brazil and Russia.

The SA launch has drawn some favourable comment from the market place, and if people put their money where their mouths are, we might well see MAN overtaking Mercedes-Benz as the European and overall best selling truck brand in the extra-heavy market. So far, it’s been a neck-and-neck race, with Mercedes-Benz still pipping MAN at the post with its Actros and Axor horses, launched last year.

The new TGS-WW range still has to prove itself over the next two years or so, which will provide some legroom for Volvo and Scania, the two Scandinavian rivals, who should never be underrated. Volvo surprised the market a few months ago by topping both Mercedes-Benz and MAN on sales in the extra-heavy market; Scania may come up with some surprises as well following the launch of its new R-Series.

Of the other European brands, Iveco is still pulling in support from staunch Stralis supporters, while DAF, now under yet another new distributorship agreement, still needs to convince the market that it has the long-distance determination to stick around. Being really Dutch (as in orange), I’d like to see the brand succeed here.

It must be remembered that the extra-heavy truck market took a 50% nose-dive last year and is recovering or “consolidating” slowly, as Daimler vice-president Kobus van Zyl, responsible for the Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner and Fuso divisions, puts it. He and Hino South Africa GM, Ignatius Muthien, estimate that by year-end it should have recovered by 10% or just over that, on last year’s figures.

MAN Truck & Bus (SA) management board member truck sales, Johan Cloete, wearing three hats as he is in charge of the TGS/CLA and Volkswagen Constellation product portfolios, will go much higher than that figure, saying sales during the past two months have picked up. This is more on the basis of fleet expansion (no trade-ins) whereas it was vehicle replacement (with trade-ins) before.

Wake up for a shake upSadly, the sales performance of Cloete’s Brazilian-built Volkswagen Constellation has been below expectations so far, but we are aware that MAN has had some serious problems trying to merge confusing Brazilian manufacturing, packaging and shipping procedures with MAN’s simple “vehicle-in-a box” style of doing things. Due to a lack of stock, he had to kiss a number of potential sales goodbye. Apart from trying to solve these problems, he is determined to get a 6×4 on the road to make Volkswagen a serious competitor in the super league as well; next year perhaps?

It is also interesting to note that despite all the hype about cheaper trucks from China and India, sales of the Powerstar, Tata and CLA brands in South Africa have not been impressive. But the current restructuring of the sales and back-up team under Frans Cloete, may see Powerstar come back into focus.

The dark horse in this Asian line-up is First Automotive Works (FAW) which, under Tommy Blake, prefers not to report its monthly sales to the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa), as all the others do.

However, along with Sinotruk, in which MAN has taken a 25%-plus one stake and will co-produce an African truck range in 2012, the Asian presence is becoming very noticeable.

It is also noteworthy that while the Japanese manufacturers are not actually famous for their role in the long-distance truck market sector, they jointly rule supreme in the medium to heavy construction, city and inter-city distribution market (under 16 000 kg GVM). They now appear to be in the process of increasing their product line-up in the extra-heavy market as well.

Isuzu Truck South Africa, for example, has increased its presence in the heavy/extra-heavy range with five more models to fill the gap between the F-Series and the Gigamax.

Muthien tells us that Hino will also be extending its product line-up early next year, while Fuso last month launched a new range of rigids and truck tractors that will cater for the high-end market as well (see page 57).

UD Trucks (formerly Nissan Diesel), whose top of the range has become a familiar sight on the Durban-Gauteng run, is  now exporting them to cross-border destinations as well.

In other words, we are living in interesting, extra-heavy times. Let’s see who will be the big shakers next year.

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